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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

‘AEAs are just fine’

Iowa AEAs in need of support following proposed changes
Iowa+Governor+Kim+Reynolds+laid+out+a+plan+in+January+that+would+%E2%80%9Creorganize%E2%80%9D+the+Area+Education+Agency+%28AEA%29+system+in+our+state.+Created+in+1974+by+the+Iowa+State+Legislature%2C+the+goal+of+AEAs+is+to+provide+equity+in+educational+services+across+the+state+of+Iowa.
COURTESY
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds laid out a plan in January that would “reorganize” the Area Education Agency (AEA) system in our state. Created in 1974 by the Iowa State Legislature, the goal of AEAs is to provide equity in educational services across the state of Iowa.

Editor’s Note: Grant Pedersen has relatives who work for Iowa AEAs.

On Jan. 8, 2024, the Iowa General Assembly gaveled into session to begin the second year of its 90th session. The next day, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds held her annual Condition of the State address in the House chamber, laying out her goals to be accomplished by the legislature this year.  Within her speech, Reynolds addressed many admirable goals, such as raising starting teacher pay to $50,000.Nevertheless, to the surprise of many legislatures, she laid out her plan to “reorganize” the Area Education Agency (AEA) system within our state. 

Area Education Agencies were created in 1974 by the Iowa Legislature to provide equity in educational services across our state. Before the conception of the AEAs’ Iowa operated on a county-wide educational support system; this was ineffective as it became a resource struggle between the urban counties with capitol and the rural counties without. AEAs, which have operated under the direction of elected boards for the last 50 years, were created this way to establish local control within each agency’s service area. The AEA system has evolved into a central piece of Iowa’s education system and is envied throughout the country. 

Circling back to the present, Gov. Reynolds has proposed drastic and damaging cuts that will harm the AEAs to its core. These proposals were introduced after the State of the State address with the release of House Study Bill 542. 

If House Study Bill 542 is to be passed, the central change to be enacted is that the AEAs will lose their current level of local autonomy, thus putting them under the direct supervision of the Iowa Dept. of Education and its Director, McKenzie Snow. Other changes proposed in the original bill include eliminating the position of chief administrator as well as other administrative positions, eliminating media and educational services and the before-mentioned loss of autonomy in favor of control from Des Moines.

While I am not in favor of this bill, I am in favor of constructively changing government systems for the better over time. What Gov. Reynolds is currently doing to the AEAs is not constructive, but destructive. She has been quoted in a post via her gubernatorial Facebook account as bluntly saying, “the AEA system is failing,” as of Jan. 26, 2024.  Through these words, the governor is hurting hundreds of Iowans who pour their hearts and souls into their work at the AEAs every day. 

Many other educational advocates have criticized the governor’s use of standardized tests to push the narrative that the AEAs are “failing.” The governor has referred to NAEP or the National Assessment for Educational Progress in this regard. According to Central Rivers AEA, only 266 Special Ed fourth graders across the state took the test out of 70,000 Iowa students with disabilities. Each student has individual educational goals, and standardized tests do not always align with these goals.

Since the Condition of the State address, thousands of Iowans have participated in grass-roots efforts to block the bill’s passage. Representatives have been bombarded with emails since the start of the session in early January. As a result of this advocacy, the AEA supporters won their first victory when the chair of the House Education Committee, Skylar Wheeler, made it clear the current bill would not pass the House. On the other hand, the governor’s bill with amendment passed a Senate Subcommittee. Because of this, the bill is still technically alive, but it must be approved by the Senate Education Committee to pass the first legislative funnel on Feb. 14th to be considered for a full vote this session. Many legislatures balked at the over 100-page bill, making it clear they were blind-sighted by the governor’s steamrolling of legislation.

The main goal I hope to portray from this piece is not to simply give my opinion, but to inform the University of Northern Iowa campus community about an ongoing conversation under the Gold Dome in Des Moines. 

Many of my fellow students may have been served through the AEA system, from speech services to senior athletic posters in the hometown gym. I encourage all people reading this article to do their own research on this topic.

Currently, the AEAs need Iowans who believe in their mission to inform legislatures  that what they are considering is shortsighted and misinformed. If this bill passes, hundreds of people across the state will be at risk of losing their jobs. The AEAs are just fine, and they don’t need someone in Des Moines dictating their every move while serving kids in need.

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GRANT PEDERSEN, Staff Writer

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